The bottom line on the Jim Gray/Pete Rose flap: Gray was a reporter doing his job--asking questions that needed answers.
Did Gray go on with the same line of questioning a tad too long when Rose, a man he's known for more than 20 years and interviewed more than 50 times, made it clear he had no intention of answering? Perhaps.
Was the line of questioning inappropriate considering it occurred minutes after Rose and other all-time great players had been honored as members of baseball's All-Century Team?
You probably could make a case for that, too.
But I won't even try.
Gray answered both of those questions Tuesday night. After viewing the tape of the Sunday night interview for the first time in a Tuesday production meeting before Game 3, Gray apologized during the NBC pregame show to anyone offended by the interview.
"After viewing the videotape, I can understand the reaction of many baseball fans," Gray said on the air. "I thought it was important to ask Pete Rose if this was the right moment for him to make an apology. If, in doing so, the interview went on too long and took out some of the joy of the occasion, then I want to say to baseball fans everywhere that I am very sorry about this."
NBC officials yesterday insisted that Gray was not pressured into his apology by his superiors and that MasterCard, the sponsor of the all-century promotion, never threatened to pull its considerable lineup of advertising from future baseball telecasts on NBC. That is what network officials are supposed to say, even if experience would indicate there almost certainly had to be considerable pressure on Gray from a variety of sources to perform his act of contrition.
Gray said in a brief interview yesterday: "People at NBC have been beyond belief. Dick Ebersol [NBC Sports president] has been unbelievable with his support personally, privately and publicly. You could not ask or receive any more. That is plain and simply the truth."
On Monday, I spoke with Gray on the telephone as he was catching a plane from Atlanta to New York. He was having a difficult time understanding the furor his interview had created, especially on a day when a far more significant story, a plane crash that counted among its six victims U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart, was unfolding across the country.
"I thought I was doing my job," he said several times, adding later, "I'm not sorry for it. I don't apologize for it. It was an opportunity to find out if he had a change of heart."
At the time, I agreed with Gray, and I still do. He is the best sideline and event reporter on television, always eschewing the insipid "how does it feel" line of questioning used by so many of his less talented peers. Just last year, he won an Emmy award for his brilliant interview with a very angry Mike Tyson minutes after the boxer had bitten off part of Evander Holyfield's ear.
Gray never shied away or backed off in that interview. And when Rose kept answering Gray's questions with queries of his own, it merely prolonged a discussion on a subject that probably should have ended when it became obvious Rose was still in total denial about the severity of his sins against the game.
Gray is taking all of the heat for this, and that is really too bad. Wasn't he wearing an earpiece connecting him to his producers and directors in the truck? Why didn't someone say quietly into his ear, "Jim, let's move the questioning over to Pete being honored tonight and what it's like to be back in a major league ballpark."
It also must be said this is all being said with 20-20 hindsight. There's not a reporter in the business, print or broadcast, who has never come out of an interview thinking he or she should have started off soft and eased into the tough question, or lamented not asking a question in a slightly gentler tone, or even worried about asking the wrong question.
Gray had a limited amount of time on the air. He probably should have started by asking Rose's reaction to being honored before going into questions Rose, quite frankly, has never really answered honestly.
Let's not forget something else here: Rose knew full well what Gray's line of inquiry was going to be beforehand. He did not jump on Gray after the interview and, to my knowledge, hasn't said anything about it publicly, allowing his fans to answer for him.
We're also talking about a man who was convicted for tax evasion, allegedly gambled on the team he was managing, and, by his own admission, was not a particularly good family man. This was not about bullying a candidate for canonization. Of course Rose should be treated fairly. But he can take it and dish it right back.
By the way, when I asked Gray the other day whether he thought Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame, he said "if he was on my ballot, yes. But he's not on the ballot. If the commissioner decided whatever the issues there were had been resolved, I would vote for Pete Rose. But that's a matter between Bud Selig, Major League Baseball and Pete Rose."
Long before Sunday's flap, and Yankee Chad Curtis's childish snub of Gray after hitting the game-winning home run Tuesday, I was thinking about Gray while watching the Mike Tyson fight Saturday night.
On another evening of typically huge controversy, Showtime was forced to send that intrepid reporter, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, to grill the participants. I saw his interview with the head of the Nevada Boxing Commission and cringed as Pacheco asked questions, then answered himself, offered his own opinion to a mostly silent interview subject and at times seemed to be ranting and raving even more than usual.
Pacheco was pressed into duty for only one reason: Jim Gray, the best game interviewer on television, was busy doing the World Series. Viewers can only hope Jim Gray will be around for a long time, doing the big interviews at the big events, and asking the tough questions that need answers. In other words, doing his job.